NEW YORK – Officials at Trinity High School in the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, say the school has taken steps this week to listen to the perspectives of students and community leaders on improvements it can make after a former student published a racist photo to social media.
Students made the school aware of the post late last week, and disciplinary action was promptly taken. In response, school officials turned Oct. 11 into a non-academic day for students to reflect on the incident, pray, and provide feedback to one another and school leaders.
Alison Mueller, the school’s director of marketing, enrollment and development, told Crux that it was important for the school – students and faculty alike – to have frank conversations about how to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.
“When something like this happens within a community it creates a lot of surprise … and so students were talking about how do we make sure this doesn’t become a surprise to us in the community again, how we limit something like this from happening again and how we engage in fruitful dialogue with one another so that things like this don’t happen again,” Mueller said.
The controversy picked up steam online in the immediate aftermath when a rumor circulated that the student was originally given a one-day suspension and allowed to continue his participation in athletics.
Superintendent of schools David Thibault on Oct. 8 called the narrative “baseless” and made clear the individual is no longer a student at Trinity High School.
“This is a time to sit with others and truly listen; to love our neighbors as ourselves,” Thibault said in a statement. “Talking past one another, threats of violence, sharing of personal information, and posting of misinformation are unacceptable and must stop. Instead, let’s continue to work together to build up a community where all are treated with dignity and respect.”
Simultaneously, though, as the punishment rumor spread, supposed current and former students anonymously had messages shared on social media claiming there is a history of poor treatment of minority students at Trinity High School that has gone on for years. Currently, the school has a minority student population of 17 percent, out of 350 students, according to Mueller.
Mueller said the school is looking into the comments made online.
“That’s not what the Trinity community is about,” she said. “Students that have made those remarks on social media, we are trying to follow up with them with a neutral party to learn more about what they may have felt or experienced so that we can look into it more and determine what we need to do to make sure that there are no students who feel that way.”
School administrators and diocese leaders also met with different community leaders this week “to listen, to talk about different strategies and talk about past experiences where they have worked with different individuals who have expressed concern.”
Those meetings included a meeting with James McKim, the Manchester National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) branch president, Mueller said. McKim confirmed to Crux that the meeting took place, and commended the school for its statement in response, and the student for apologizing for his action.
He said that this should be a learning opportunity for the former student, school, and community.
“For the student who posted the photo, the lesson is to be sensitive to painting others in a bad light, even if it is a joke,” McKim said in a statement. “For Trinity, the lesson is that it must do better at teaching students how to be sensitive to how their words impact others. For the community of southern New Hampshire, the lesson is that even the best private schools are not immune to acts of dehumanization.”
“Let us all take the opportunity to dedicate ourselves to creating a community where this kind of act is not only not tolerated, but does not happen in the first place,” McKim continued.
Mueller said that the information gathered from the listening sessions, discussions and written feedback from students “will be used for the remainder of however long it takes to patch the wounds that our community feels.”
She said there were conversations with students about the importance of how they present themselves in the community and act on social media, as well.
“It was important for us to reiterate to students that you are a Pioneer – the school mascot – wherever you are, and when you are out in the community, when on social media, you represent something greater than yourself and to exercise prudence when you are representing yourself and your community,” Mueller said.
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